Sex and contraception

In her latest entry Josephine explains Roman Catholic thinking on sex and contraception

For most of history, few women had the chance of studying and using their education in the public sphere. In fact, for most of history, very few men had the chance of studying either. In the Western world, and elsewhere, women have the same opportunities as men. Without such opportunities, I would not be writing this now!

Yet women and men, feel the overwhelming importance of committed love and the children that are the product of this love. Totalitarian and secular governments often seek to treat women in the work-force as if they were men and as if their inherent value lay in the world of paid employment. They down-grade the importance of marriage, which is the gift of one man to one woman and one woman to one man. When you present a gift to someone, you cannot take it back! Therefore the Catholic Church defends marriage and underlines the equality of woman and man in that state.

Sex, in Christian understanding, is for ‘bonding and babies,’ just as food is for nourishment and sleep is for rest.

Because one cannot take back the gift of self that one has given to husband or wife in marrying, the Catholic Church holds that marriage cannot be dissolved. This teaching goes back to that of Christ in the gospel of Matthew, when he said that a man who ‘divorces his wife … and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’ (Mt.19) and in Mark, Ch 10, Jesus adds ‘And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she is guilty of adultery too.’

It is becoming increasingly evident that marriage provides the stability that human beings crave, whether adults or children but especially the latter. Emotional security is so important to children that it needs to include both parents, though many single parents are heroically successful in bringing up their children. Separation because of cruelty of one sort or another is a different matter.

‘AGAINST CONTRACEPTION? CAN YOU BE SERIOUS?

Because marriage is the place for active sexual love, marriage is the place for the gift of self to the other. Barriers are out of place. Contraceptives are essentially barriers between the self-giving of the two. That does not mean that the couple cannot decide the number of their children they would like to have, on the basis of their health, their energy, and their finances. The woman’s body has indicators that show the few hours in each cycle when she can conceive and she and her husband can choose to abstain from sex for about seven days in each month. Not easy, perhaps, but better than condoms, which, however perfect in the factory, can tear and slip in use. Better than the pill, which can produce many and varied unwanted side effects. Because of failures and difficulties with contraceptives, abortions become an acceptable back-up – abortions take female life in the womb (as well as male). With goodwill, natural fertility management, on the other hand, brings the couple closer together, each having the same responsibility for their family.

In February this year, the FPA, formerly the Family Planning Association, an organisation not known for sympathetic understanding of Roman Catholic teaching, published a report which found that natural family planning is as effective as the contraceptive pill, long seen as the benchmark of fertility control. (Daily Telegraph 21.2.07)

The condom is considered to have a failure rate in practice of about 15%. In the case of AIDS infection, that would equate to a terrible risk.

Josephine Robinson studied at Oxford before working as an actress until she married and had children. She has worked for various Christian and pro-life charities and is author three books and numerous articles.
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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era